Why the wholesale changes for the Chicago Fire match?

Science determined different-looking Rapids lineup from win over Dynamo to tie with the Fire

Teams vs. Houston and Chicago

Photo Credit: 
Bart Young/Garrett Ellwood/Colorado Rapids

What changed between the 3-0 home win over the Houston Dynamo on June 1 (top photo above), and the naming of the starting 11 to tackle Chicago Fire three days later?

Why were eight of the starters that so picked apart the Dynamo either consigned to the bench or given the night off completely?

The answers were offered during an exclusive interview for this week's Rapids Podcast with Colorado Rapids' VP of Soccer Operations and Technical Director, Paul Bravo, who pointed to a new approach being taken by the club as they look to improve the players' recovery time, and have them fitter for longer.

"It's a difficult one to swallow," admitted Bravo. "It's certainly tough for me to swallow - I'm as old school as they come - but the data tells us that we were potentially putting some of our players at risk if we were to throw them back out there.

"Never mind that we had three games in seven days, but the data was telling us that we couldn't throw certain players back out there with two days rest without exposing them to injuries that could sideline them for six to eight weeks."

  • LISTEN: Paul Bravo on the new scientific approach

Science is playing a greater role in decisions being made by the technical staff, and it was the information gleaned from lactate accumulation tests in the aftermath of the Houston match which determined the 11 that took to the field against the Fire.

Blood lactate levels are measured in millimolars (mM). I am steering clear of turning this into a chemistry lesson, so Google it if you want more specific details on the exact nature of a millimolar. Suffice to say, the resting levels should return a reading of 1mM. The lactate threshold during high-intensity running, such as that endured during a 90 minute soccer match, is 4mM. It's at this point when sports scientists express concern and report a higher risk of muscle injuries.

That said, anyone hovering around the 3mM mark, is deemed as having the potential for problems, and of the seven outfield players which did not suit up for the Chicago match, all were borderline or above, in some cases even beyond the threshold (one was at 4.9mM).

The three players who started both the Houston and Chicago games were Drew Moor, Shane O'Neill and Nick LaBrocca. All were within the 1-3mM window.

Bravo feels that the Rapids, and perhaps many sides in MLS, are still struggling to adjust to three games in a week, and this comes down to players' ability to recover as quickly as maybe their counterparts in Europe. Take Seattle Sounders, for example. They recently played Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday, winning the first two at home, before slumping to a 5-0 loss at New England Revolution. A blip in results? Or the inability to recover sufficiently to cope with three games in eight days?

Bravo suggests the club's decision to embrace science will benefit the team long-term, but warns that the benefits may not be felt until the start of next season.

"We may be one of the few (in MLS) that are doing this, and we believe that we will be where we want to be, six months to 12 months out," he said. "So, we started back in January, and we should start to see those results as we get through the summer months and towards the end of the year but probably something by 2015."